I spent the spring semester of my junior year studying abroad in Athens, Greece. I spent the semester studied at the College Year in Athens program – a small study abroad school for students from North American schools. The College Year in Athens (CYA) program was an amazing program that fit both my academic interests and my desire to be immersed in a new culture. I was able to take classes that fit both my Environmental Studies and Political Science interests, fulfill a Gettysburg Curriculum requirement, and work on studying a new language. I had an amazing experience learning from intelligent and welcoming faculty at CYA, who were not only great professors, but also welcoming members of the Greek community that we lived in. The school is located in a neighborhood of central Athens called Pangrati, and is located across from the first modern Olympic stadium with a wonderful view of the Acropolis. I lived in a Greek apartment building with other students, which was only a few minutes away from our school and about a fifteen minute walk from Syntagma Square, the center of Athens.
At CYA I took normal course load of four classes. I took Urban Sustainability: Theory and Case Studies in Greece, the European Union: Challenges and Strategic Choices, Gender and Sexuality in Modern Greek Culture and Modern Greek for Beginners. The Urban Sustainability class was an interesting new class that the school is offering that focuses on Athens as a case study on urban planning and sustainability. The class took us all over Athens to study different neighborhoods and made me interested enough in planning to spend my summer as an intern at a city planning commission! My European Union class was a perfect fit for my interest in international relations. It was very exciting to be studying European politics at the time of interesting – and frightening – events like Brexit, the refugee crisis, terrorist attacks, and the Greek economic crisis. My favorite class was my Gender and Sexuality class. I took this class by recommendation of my sister who previously studied at CYA. The professor of the class encourages a hands-on approach to learning and sent us all around Athens for various projects in the class. Class assignments took place in locations like soccer stadiums, churches, Greek universities, coffee shops, cemeteries, nightclubs, and more! We were encouraged to explore the city while thinking deeply about the world around us. The class was a great way to learn about and experience life in Greece. My most challenging class was definitely Modern Greek. Although I speak some Greek at home, learning to read, write, and speak any new language is difficult, but I had a wonderful teacher helping me! Our professor was a sweet and inspirationally positive grandmother who became very close to our class. She had us singing songs, acting out plays, and over at her house for dinner. I was very impressed by my classes abroad and would recommend CYA to anyone looking to study abroad!
Another great aspect of CYA was the ability to travel abroad. CYA holds classes Monday through Thursday, so the weekends are free for exploring Athens, traveling around Greece, or visiting new countries. Some trips are included with the program, like trips to the Peloponnese (the southern Peninsula of Greece), Delphi, and Thessaloniki in Northern Greece. As a program, were able to visit the site of the ancient Olympic games in Olympia, explore the ancient tombs of friends of Alexander the Great, and take a trip into the mountains to the mystical Oracle of Delphi. I also went on two optional trips that were planned by our school to Istanbul, Turkey, and Barcelona. The trips planned by the school were well organized and a great way to learn about new places, because you had professors to serve as your tour guides whenever you went to a historical site! I also did some traveling on my own to Greek islands and the village that my family lives in, as well as to other countries like Germany, Denmark, and France.
My experience abroad would be incomplete without mentioning the experience I had getting to know my many family members in Greece! My mom is from Greece and while she had her immediate family moved to America, much of my family still live in Greece! While living in Athens I was able to become very close to my family that live in Athens. I had relatives my age that showed me around the city and introduced me to many of their friends. Although I did not live with a host family, I spent enough time with my family members that In feel that I did not miss out on any aspects of Greek culture! They included me for family dinners, took me out to their favorite cafes, and even went with me to see My Big Fat Greek Wedding Two. My favorite memory of my entire abroad experience was spending the Easter holiday in the village that my mom is from. I spent Easter in Katouna, a village a few hours west of Athens. Easter is the biggest holiday in Greek culture in the Orthodox Church. It is the one time of year that every little village in Greece is filled with family members that have moved away. I stayed with family in the house that my grandmother grew up in, and attended church services at the church where my grandparents were married. The beautiful village, delicious food, and unbelievable hospitality of my family made for an unforgettable holiday. It was an incredible experience to finally live in the country that has had such a huge impact on my life. Before leaving for abroad, I was terrified of the homesickness that I would feel being away from home for so long. Between the close friends that I made in CYA, the time spent with my family, and the hospitality of everyone that I met in Greece, Athens quickly felt like home. Leaving Greece was more difficult then I ever could have imagined, and I can’t wait to find a chance to go back!